GRANT McCANN’s affection for the Checkatrade Trophy in its various guises will have been sorely tested last night.
In his playing days, the Doncaster Rovers chief netted at Wembley for Scunthorpe United in their final defeat in 2009 and was dancing on the hallowed turf with his Peterborough United team-mates following glory in the showpiece five years later.
With his managerial hat firmly on, the financial spin-offs of the competition are now unlikely to be lost upon him.
The competition’s new mantra of ‘Every Game Matters’ may be derided by many given some hideously low crowds last season and negligible interest.
But for many lower-division clubs, the incentive of £12,000 prize money per Group Phase win possesses its own allure. Not to mention the half a million banked by last season’s competition winners Lincoln City.
Unfortunately, the tills were not ringing last night with a strong home line-up, featuring seven weekend starters, undone by three clinical pieces of incision from the Newcastle United Under-23s youngsters who will remember their Keepmoat visit and 3-1 victory.
Cajoled incessantly on the touchline by their Tyneside-born coach Ben Dawson, whose Geordie brogue could be heard constantly, it was hard to begrudge the Tynesiders their moment.
Their celebrations following their two well-crafted second-half goals from Callum Roberts and Elias Sorensen were something to behold – and to those who say that the competition does not matter in the development of emerging Premier League footballers of tomorrow, here was the counter-argument.
McCann will have felt rather less suited, his frustration compounded with Tommy Rowe and Mitchell Lund coming off injured in the first-half.
Rowe looked distinctly non-plussed after leaving the fray early on, while the luckless Lund hobbled off in his first Rovers outing since March 2017.
Fortunately, the first period did have one redeeming late feature in a half which saw a mammoth nine minutes of stoppage time following a delay caused by running repairs to netting damaged when the Magpies went ahead.
Picking up the ball close to the right touchline, John Marquis fired over a speculative cross towards the far post and he got more than he bargained for when it arrowed into the net.
Prior to that, it had been Newcastle, fielding two players in Jamie Sterry and Sean Longstaff who started in their recent EFL Cup exit at Nottingham Forest, who took to the surroundings with more aptitude.
It yielded a tidy 14th-minute goal when Tyneside teenager Tom Allan raced onto Owen Bailey’s fine defence-splitting pass before instinctively racing around the onrushing Marko Marosi and slotting home.
The goal was acclaimed by a hardy enclave of 115 visiting fans, vastly fewer in number to the sell-out following who heralded Andy Carroll’s late winner in a 1-0 Toon triumph en route to promotion in March 2010 – in a bumper crowd of 14,850.
Against a technically proficient Newcastle side, Rovers, just as then, had a real work-out, but just when it looked like their league know-how would prevail in the second half, the visitors had other ideas.
First, Roberts turned in subtitute Adam Wilson’s centre before Sorensen surged clear and steered home following Longstaff’s incisive pass.